Look Into the Economic Future of Thurston County with the Economic Vitality Index Led by the Thurston Economic Development Council


Understanding the impacts on the economy and its long-term effects can be quite complex. Luckily, organizations like the Thurston Economic Development Council (EDC) have been diligently providing tools for Thurston County residents to see the vitality of our local economy. For the last 15 years, the Thurston EDC has been developing and publishing the Economic Vitality Index to provide an overview of our current economic strengths and weaknesses and into the future. Thanks to the supportF of Port of Olympia and South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC), the Thurston EDC has been able to produce the 2022 report and promote strategic action for business owners, first-time home buyers, and any resident looking to prepare for changes and shifts in the economy.

The History of the Economic Vitality Index

The Economic Vitality Index was first published in 2008 thanks to the efforts and vision from Joseph Beaulieu. “Joseph was with Venture Bank and had been the president of the Thurston County Chamber and the Thurston EDC Board,” shares Dr. Riley Moore, a major contributor to the Economic Vitality Index. “He wanted to duplicate what Pierce County had been doing with the University of Puget Sound and provide a unique index for Thurston County.”

Created by Dr. Riley Moore, the composite index is a tool for policy makers and planners to predict the economic conditions of the near future. The index is composed of five indicators, including total residential building permits, initial unemployment claims, consumer sentiment, U.S. securities yield spreads, and stocks deemed to impact the local economy. Photo courtesy: Thurston Economic Development Council

The methodology used to generate this report includes two primary sources, the University of Michigan and the Conference Board out of New York, which allows the Thurston EDC to compare local shifts with national trends. Originally, surveys and phone calls were used by students of Saint Martin’s University to collect local data from residents and business owners. Today, as people have moved from landlines to cell phones, the data collection processes have been adapted to include modern technology to ensure they are still using a representative sample.

One of the primary goals with the Economic Vitality Index was to capture the current economic standing of Thurston County and help residents understand different areas of the economy, including housing, unemployment, and average income. Within this report are various graphs and explanations demonstrating comparisons over time and to neighboring counties to get a better idea of where Thurston County is in their economic growth and recovery from the recent pandemic. The Economic Vitality Index is published twice a year, once in the middle to show progress and turnover, and again at the end of the year to set the tone for the year to come. By reading these reports, residents can better understand the impacts and standings of various sectors within the local economy.

The Housing Affordability Index was created by the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington and tracks the affordability of housing in Thurston County for first-time home buyers. Courtesy. Despite lower overall costs in Washington State, the cost of housing remains a major barrier to economic growth in Thurston County. Photo courtesy: Thurston Economic Development Council

Economic Stability and Growth Present in Thurston County

Many of the graphs in the Economic Vitality Index span back anywhere from 5 to 30 years, allowing readers to see historical trends in recent years and past decades. Having this insight provides a visual overview of how unemployment, housing affordability, retail sales and more have changed with time. While the future is unpredictable, this historical economic data provides essential clues about what is to come for critical demographics in our community. The research team for the Economic Vitality Index is able to compile this data and provide essential information to support different impactful demographics in our local economy, including first-time home buyers and business owners, as well as everyday residents investing locally and workers seeking employment in Olympia and the surrounding communities.

It is all too common for the media to focus on the negatives and hardships, including both news platforms and social media. People often gravitate toward these stories and overlook the positive things developing in the economy. The Economic Vitality Index helps to illuminate the truth underneath some of the present economic pitfalls and highlights the areas that are strong within the economy. “The biggest takeaway for Thurston County is that the public sector has a great deal of stability, which means less volatility than our neighbors in King County and Pierce County,” shares Dr. Moore. “We are also seeing a great deal of expansion locally in Hawks Prairie on the private sector.”

As seen in the Industry GDP chart, the relative share of Thurston County’s GDP is made up by the 10 largest industrial sectors. While Public Administration remains the largest single sector in our community, it represents only 28% of the total economic output. This underscores the importance of other business sectors in our economy, which compose the remaining portion of the county’s GDP. Photo courtesy: Thurston Economic Development Council

While many of these economic elements are strengthened and recovering post-pandemic, the Olympia housing sector continues to serve as the biggest challenge and barrier to workers in the region. First-time home buyers and middle-income citizens are unfortunately at the greatest risk in this current housing market as their purchasing power has steadily declined over the last decade. As discouraging as it may be to see trend, this research and data is critical to understanding ways to turn the tide and create more homeownership opportunities within Thurston County. The hope is that the Economic Vitality Index can provide essential information not only to the community but to industry leaders and policymakers to help invoke positive change. With time, negative trends can be reversed to create positive growth in each sector and promote prosperity in Thurston County.

Reflect on Trends in 2022 with the Economic Vitality Index

The Economic Vitality Index for 2022 allows us to look back at what has been happening on our local economy and gives us the knowledge to plan ahead for 2023. The Thurston EDC is available to help answer questions regarding this published data to ensure every citizen can navigate current economic trends. By continuing to analyze our local economy, we can promote positive growth and experience vitality in every level of our community. Review the Economic Vitality Index for 2022 and discover how our current economy is evolving.


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